We buried my nan this week. She passed away a couple of weeks ago and on Tuesday we gave her a much deserved final send-off. Naturally it was a sad occasion for those of us present, but in reality, this was no occasion for self-pity, rather an opportunity to celebrate a life very much fulfilled – after all, my nan was well into her 95th year when she took her final breath.Born and raised in Newcastle, she remained a proud Geordie to the end, even though she died in the Putney flat she had called home for the last forty years. As the hearse slowly made its way round the courtyard outside her flat, as she embarked on her final journey, I stood solemnly with myriad thoughts and recollections vying for a place inside my head: of the patch of grass just yards away which was once a football pitch to my brother, cousins and I, but would now only be able to accommodate a couple of us at a time as our waists have expanded as quickly as our ages; of numerous drunken renditions of The Blaydon Races, as yet another family function reached a boozy conclusion; of my favourite Geordie pensioner pogo-ing along with me and my brother in her flat on New Year’s Eve 1977; and of Orient in 1978. That’s right – Orient in 1978. The relevance? Well, you see, before last Tuesday, Orient in 1978 was the last time I could remember standing outside my nan’s flat with a lump the size of a golf ball in my throat.
It had all been going so well. Mind you, it didn’t seem as much when the draw for the 3rd round pitted Chelsea against current English and European champions Liverpool. The Blues, struggling to make any kind of impact in their first season back in the top-flight after a two-year sojourn into the Second Division, had battled manfully to keep their heads above the relegation zone, while the Reds – en route to a second successive European Cup triumph – continued to flourish. Worse still, on the morning of the big match, news filtered through that due to injury, the home side would have to do battle with their mighty opponents without the services of three of their most influential players: defensive titan Micky Droy, the versatile Kenny Swain, and Ray Wilkins, captain and stand out star of Ken Shellito’s young side. Veterans Charlie Cooke and Ron Harris stepped into the breach, while Clive Walker, an exciting but inexperienced young winger, with just nine previous appearances to his name, was named in the starting line-up. In contrast, Liverpool manager Bob Paisley was able to name a team comprising ten full internationals, with fearsome midfielder Jimmy Case the odd one out.
Having missed out on a magnificent treble the season before, after losing to Manchester United in the FA Cup Final, the Reds were determined to go one better in 1978. 40,000 Chelsea fans took their places on the terraces and in the stands more in hope than genuine expectation, but early tensions were eased considerably when Walker sprinted past his marker, future Chelsea hero Joey Jones, and unleashed a scintillating shot that swerved away from Ray Clemence’s outstretched hand and nestled in the top corner of the England custodian’s net. 1-0 to the mighty Blues, a lead that was comfortably protected until half-time – and was then quickly trebled after the break.
It was super sub Steve ‘Jock’ Finnieston – deputising for the knackered Charlie Cooke – whose low shot doubled Chelsea’s lead, followed just a couple of minutes later by the goal that sent 40,000 fans delirious, Tommy Langley latching on to Phil Neal’s under-hit back pass and sweeping the ball past Clemence. As the ball hit the net, Langley sprinted excitedly towards where my father and I were standing near the bottom of the Shed End terrace, before being mobbed by team-mates. They were just a matter of yards from us and we could have almost reached out and joined in the celebrations. Mark Worrall, David Johnstone and I were talking to Tommy Langley last weekend, and had it not been for the presence of my fellow Blues, I may have struggled to resist the urge to grab our former striker and continue a goal celebration that began more than thirty years ago!
A Kenny Dalglish header gave the visitors brief hope, but when burly target man Bill Garner set up Walker for an easy finish, the game was over. David Johnson scored a late second for Liverpool, and their odious captain, Emlyn Hughes, embarrassed himself with a laughable attempt to earn Garner a red card, but nothing was going to spoil this day. On the contrary, the fact that Hughes’ childish histrionics were ignored not only by the referee but also by a set of team-mates who loathed their squeaky skipper, only served to delight the home supporters more.
The fourth round draw served up a home tie with Second Division Burnley. However, freezing temperatures caused the postponement of the clash at just 90 minutes’ notice. Me and my dad just went back home, but a few hundred Blues’ supporters decided to head north… to Highbury, where Arsenal’s clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers was guaranteed to go ahead, thanks to the Gunners’ much-vaunted, smarty pants undersoil heating. Commentating on the game for Match of the Day, John Motson became hilariously confused when, midway through the first-half, a sea of blue and white scarves appeared in the North Bank, accompanied by a throaty roar of ‘Chelsea’.
Three days later, Burnley were dispatched in style. Despite the concession of a first minute goal, Shellito’s boys continued what had been a free-scoring month for them with an almighty 6-2 triumph, which came hot on the heels of five-goal performances against Birmingham City and Ipswich Town. And they were sharing the goals around, too, as six different players – Droy, Wicks, Wilkins, Langley, Swain and Walker – got on the scoresheet against Burnley. Suddenly people were starting to sit up and take notice of Chelsea’s young team… so what happened next was inevitable, really!
The Blues already knew when they beat Burnley that their fifth round opponents would be Orient. This would be a revenge mission for a cup embarrassment at Brisbane Road six years earlier, when Dave Sexton’s King’s Road mavericks were sent packing at the same stage by the lowly East Londoners. Returning to the rundown Leyton ground, Ian Britton, who was a squad player at the time of the 1972 defeat, almost struck a spectacular goal, when his 30-yard thunderbolt was superbly saved by the Os’ John Jackson. As thousands of visiting fans rose to celebrate what looked a certain goal, a small wall collapsed. Fortunately, nobody was injured, which was a miracle in itself considering the amount of young fans who were standing at the front of the terrace when the wall gave way.
The replay was played on a Monday night – I remember that clearly although I don’t why! My aunt and uncle were over from Australia, and were staying with my nan at her flat in Putney. We had been round to visit at the weekend and my uncle had expressed an interest in coming to the replay with my dad and I. We met him at the ground, confident that his first ever football match would be a joyous occasion for the three of us. However, on reaching the Bovril Gate, we found that people were queueing out into the Fulham Road. Twenty minutes later, we had just managed to get past the Fulham Road pavement and onto the cobbles of the much-loved entrance to our beloved Shed terrace. We heard the teams being announced, and we stood patiently in line. We heard the cheers of the fans as the teams ran out onto the pitch, and still we stood patiently in line. We heard kick-off, throw-ins, free-kicks and corner kicks being awarded, and still we stood patiently in line. And then, with more than 30 minutes played, some big skinheads started to kick up a fuss. Suddenly, the big steel gates that loomed over the Bovril entrance creaked open, and in we all ran. Within seconds of reaching the Shed and finding a suitable space at the back of the terrace from where we could watch the game, Chelsea were gifted the lead by Orient defender Bill Roffey, who inexplicably but expertly lobbed the ball over his own keeper from a tight angle.
We’d only been on the terraces for a couple of minutes when the half-time whistle blew, but we’d seen what we’d come to see: Chelsea had scored and now had one foot firmly in the last eight of the FA Cup.
Of course, it all went pear-shaped in the second-half. Orient’s Peter Kitchen, a striker who sported a Zapatta moustache that made him look like Tucker from Citizen Smith (that’s one for the oldies!), suddenly burst into life after the break. I could barely see what was going on out there on the hallowed turf of Stamford Bridge, but my dad swore blind that Kitchen was offside when he scored the equaliser (I have since seen the goals from that night on a compilation DVD and can confirm that my dad was absolutely right, although to be fair to the linesman, Kitchen was only offside by about five yards! Not that I’m bitter or anything.
The inevitable second followed, this time a legitimate strike from Wolfie Smith’s friend and fellow member of the Tooting Popular Front, and Chelsea were out. My dreams of Wembley were shattered – it hadn’t occurred to me that the likes of Arsenal, Ipswich and West Bromwich Albion were still in the competition, waiting to shatter my dreams anyway. In my juvenile mind, victory over Orient would have guaranteed us the trophy.
We jumped in the car and made the short journey to Putney to drop my uncle off at my nan’s flat. My dad told me to stay in the car as he popped in to see my nan and to say his goodbyes to my aunt and uncle, who were leaving for home later that week. While he was gone, I thought about the match I had just witnessed, the sheer injustice of the defeat (because as a kid I NEVER accepted that Chelsea deserved to lose any game), and the abuse that I knew would be coming my way less than twelve hours later in a Shepherds Bush school playground that was riddled with QPR fans. My eyes filled with water, a lump burned in the back of my throat… this was pain on a grand scale.
I’ll never go to that flat in Putney again, so perhaps I can now bury the pain of Orient in 1978, and start to get on with the rest of my life.
Kelvin Barker is the author of the excellent Celery! Representing Chelsea in the 1980s. Available now from his website or on the cfcuk stall outside Fulham Broadway station at every home game.